Parental Structuring of Children's Leisure Time (page 3)
There are many advantages for school-age children whose parents get them involved in organized adult-supervised leisure activities. One of the primary benefits is that these activities provide opportunities for children to make and sustain positive peer relationships. Adult-supervised activities also reflect parental involvement and monitoring, both of which are linked to more positive peer relations and fewer behavior problems among children (Kilgore, Snyder, & Lentz, 2000). For children in the United States, these activities typically fall into the following categories: sports (e.g., soccer, football, and baseball), music, band, dance lessons, drama, crafts, Scouts, church synagogue activities, and recreational camps. All these activities assist children in achieving peer group status while broadening their scope of learning. Furthermore, being involved in positive peer group organizations extends children's peer group interactions beyond the classroom, and provides them with opportunities to interact with other children who share their interests (Elkind, 2003).
Another advantage for children whose parents get them involved in organized activities is that these activities often provide opportunities for children to learn about cultural practices other than their own and develop friendships with children from a variety of cultural backgrounds. For example, Canadian children who identified with the cultures of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh reported that leisure activities allowed them to enter and exit from different cultural communities with relative ease. According to these children, structured recreational activities allowed them to learn about diverse cultural practices and to develop friendships with children from a variety of cultural backgrounds (Tirone & Pedlar, 2005).
The Overbooked Child
Whereas being involved in organized activities has many benefits for children, parents should be careful not to overbook their children's time. When their leisure time is allocated to a multitude of activities, children have less time for unstructured play, and less time for meaningful family activities (Fishman, 1999). Elkind (2003) expressed concern regarding the overscheduling of children's lives and emphasized the need for children to have a balanced childhood in which they go to school, do a little homework, and play fort or other childhood games after school. To illustrate the difficulties faced by children whose lives are highly organized, Elkind tells the story of 9-year-old Kevin who was anxious, having trouble sleeping, and complaining that he was tired all the time. When Kevin's mother was asked about her son's schedule, it was discovered that she had enrolled him in "a dizzying number of extracurricular activities." In addition to school, Kevin had piano lessons twice a week and was involved in three team sports, church activities, and Scouts. In separate discussions with Kevin and his mother, Elkind discovered that Kevin was on the brink of depression and not having a happy childhood, as suggested by comments that he missed playing with his friends in the neighborhood. Kevin said that he missed the following activities that he used to do with friends: ridding bikes, having water balloon fights, and building forts out of cardboard boxes.
Elkind's concerns regarding the overscheduling of children's time are echoed by Rosenfield and Wise (2000), who suggested that parents of school-age children avoid the "hyperparenting trap" of overscheduling their children. Rosenfield and Wise conjectured that parents who over-schedule their children's lives seem to feel remiss that they are not being good parents if their children are not in all kinds of activities. They also pointed out that children whose lives are overscheduled are under pressure to demonstrate success in many areas. Elkind stressed that children who are pressured to achieve to the extent that they are involved in too many activities miss out on time to (a) play in a natural and creative way, (b) participate in family relationships, and (c) pursue self-awareness. According to Rosenfield and Wise, time for unstructured play allows children to follow their interests, express their personalities, and learn ways in which to structure their own time. Unfortunately, children who are running from one activity to the next have little time for these family experiences and also have less time to pursue personal interests.
What This Means for Professionals
First, it is important to remember that extracurricular activities per se are not the problem. Children who participate in such activities reap valuable rewards. Involvement in sports, for example, has been shown to be related to elevated self-confidence, higher levels of academic performance, more involvement with school, fewer behavior problems, less likelihood of taking drugs, and decreased probability of engaging in risky behavior (Elkind, 2003). Even though the provision of out-of-home organized activities is potentially advantageous to their children, parents need to avoid the "more is better" trap or the "my child is busier than your child" syndrome.
Guidelines for Choosing Children's Out-of-Home Activities
Hamner and Turner (2001) provided several excellent guidelines for assisting parents in choosing out-of-home activities for their school-age children. They suggested that parents select activities for their children judiciously, being careful not to over commit children's time. They also recommended that parents help their children select activities in which they can be successful by (a) examining alternatives carefully, and (b) considering the time commitment and competitive aspects of these activities. In addition to parental involvement in the selection of activities for their children, Hamner and Turner recommended that parents provide encouragement and guidance as children choose their own activities.
The Parent's Role in Children's Informal Leisure Activities
Besides supporting their children's involvement in organized out-of-home group activities, it is important that parents encourage home-based leisurely group activities that encourage their children's friendships, such as skating parties and hiking trips. When promoting informal leisure activities for their children and their children's friends, parents need to carefully monitor and supervise these activities because higher rates of problem behaviors such as delinquency and the use of drugs and alcohol are associated with the lack of parental monitoring of their children's leisure activities (Kilgore, Snyder, & Lentz, 2000). Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind that low socioeconomic children might require more parental monitoring because they are less likely to be involved in adult-supervised organized activities. For example, Zeijl, Poel, and Bois-Reymond (2001) found that children of high socioeconomic status received considerably more opportunities for organized, adult-supervised activities in comparison to children from lower socioeconomic families. Socioeconomic differences in children's involvement in adult-supervised activities also were reported by Lareau (2002), who found that middle-class parents arrange out-of-school activities to cultivate their children's talents and working-class and poor parents leave the arrangement of leisure activities to the children themselves.
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